Amid recent developments in proposals, passage, and controversies of policies, you might have missed an important issue. Recent debate over the current state and future of Net Neutrality has created a lot of buzz around the issue, leaving many people with a lot of unanswered questions. For marketers especially, many are wondering what the consequences of a future without Net Neutrality are and how that could affect the internet marketing industry as a whole. Before we get to that, here's an overview of where Net Neutrality currently stands.
What is Net Neutrality?
In case you're unfamiliar with the term, Net Neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. Under Net Neutrality rules, ISPs should allow all types of traffic across their networks without discrimination, interference, or control that serve the commercial interests of ISPs.
Net Neutrality rules prevent giant ISPs (like Verizon, Cox, AT&T, etc.) from charging more and making more than they already do. Without Net Neutrality, ISPs could pick and choose which portions of the internet they allow traffic to based on who is paying for it and how much. This would be bad for a few reasons:
- Non-neutrality is bad for users because ISPs wouldn't have to provide access to the entirety of the internet. They might charge a minimum for access to giant sites and applications, like Facebook and Google, and then charge more for access to second tier websites, and then charge even more to have access to the entirety of the internet.
- This would also cause problems with businesses, because the absence of Net Neutrality would totally eliminate the equal playing field that currently exists online. As Rand Fishkin explains, by simply registering a website, businesses are technically put on the same, even playing field with giants like Microsoft and Amazon, because it's the same internet access. If a business knows they'll always be a low-tier site because they can't compete with the amount of money those giants are able to give ISPs, it means there will be fewer players and less competition.
In essence, non-neutrality actually cripples competition and degrades user experience by restricting online access.
Why is everyone suddenly talking about Net Neutrality?
The Federal Communications Commission just voted 2:1 to overturn the Obama administration's laws which made the internet a public utility, forcing ISPs to be regulated by the FCC's Net Neutrality rules. Though not yet in effect, this means that ISPs will no longer have to allow internet access to users equally or in a manner that doesn't serve their own commercial interests. This vote was facilitated in large part by Ajit Pai, who Trump recently appointed as the new FCC chair.
Before I go any further, let me clarify that this issue isn't all that politically divisive. The overwhelming majority of both Democrats and Republicans agree that Net Neutrality rules facilitate a freely functioning internet market. Rather, the controversy stems from divisive and misleading narratives about Net Neutrality which claim it's just another form of government overreach and restricts freedom. In recent years, ISPs have put a lot of money into lobbyists to change attitudes towards Net Neutrality, so it's no coincidence that recent conflicting narratives are starting to pop up.
Non-neutrality could destroy the internet marketing industry
Because Net Neutrality stimulates competition, it creates a high demand for online services like SEO and digital marketing. When a smaller business registers a website, it needs help to compete with powerhouse websites like Amazon, so it turns to digital marketers. This constant and free-flowing competition online has created a high demand for content strategy, SEO, social-media campaigning, pay-per-click services, and more that have made digital marketing one of the most lucrative industries today.
The digital marketing industry, which is worth around $80 billion, would come to a screeching halt in a non-neutrality scenario. By its very nature, non-neutrality would destroy the competition that Net Neutrality has facilitated for years. That could then spin off into the online space being exclusively dominated by top websites, thereby devastating the internet marketing industry.
ISPs alone stand to gain from non-neutrality, which means it's in the majority's interest to fight against it. For both users and businesses, non-neutrality could take the internet from being a competitive and profitable resource to being unaffordable, restrictive, and inaccessible.